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Steigerwald: Facing the Truth About Pitt Football



Pitt Stadium at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. Photo by Robert Dorsey/edited by Michael G White

How about a tarp over The Pete?

Did you see the “crowd” for Pitt’s basketball game against Montana Monday night? It was about what you would expect for the Pitt Intramural Basketball Championship.

The basketball team has issues but it also has a long history of filling the building for its home games and a long history of being able to compete against the top programs in the country.

Build another winner and it will be a tough ticket again.

So, it will be a while before anybody seriously suggests a tarp to cover all the empty seats at Pitt basketball games.

Can’t say the same for the football team.

A tarp to cover the ridiculous number of empty seats at Heinz Field seems to be getting closer to reality with every embarrassing home game.

Boy, does Heather Lyke have a tough job. She’s the Athletic Director at Pitt.

A good argument can be made for the tarp. It’s been done in Pittsburgh by the Pirates and pro and college teams around the country are doing it now.

But it’s about so much more than a tarp.

It’s about more than sucking it up and facing the truth. It’s about, after spending only six months on campus, having the guts to tell everybody around her to suck it up and face the truth.

As I said — tough job.

The truth is that Pitt fans and alumni have been living in a dream world for 35 years and it has turned Pitt football into a nightmare.

All of her energy should be spent on finding a workable plan for a football stadium on campus, but that’s only the first step toward accepting the truth.

She needs to sell every one on the idea that having a good football team that can compete in the ACC is a good enough goal and that having a perennial great team that competes for a spot in the championship playoff and draws 65,000 fans to Heinz Field is a pipe dream.

Chasing an impossible dream is what turned Pitt football into a nightmare of mediocrity and empty seats.

Everybody needs to wake up to the truth about that eight or nine-year period in the 70s and 80s when Pitt was a top 5 team.

It was a fluke.

Let’s remember how it happened.

Pitt went out and recruited the hottest young coach in the country, Johnny Majors, who had turned the Iowa State program around.

Majors arrived in town to find out that a really good running back was playing about a half an hour away in Hopewell. Somehow, he convinced Tony Dorsett to come to Pitt.

Dorsett ended up gaining more yards than any back in the history of college football and his decision to stay home made it a lot easier for Majors to convince other top local high school players to stay home.

Pitt wins the Mythical National Championship and Dorsett wins the Heisman Trophy.

After spending several years as a national laughing stock and one of the worst major college football programs in history, Pitt had arrived as a national power.

Dorsett leaves and so does Majors.

A young assistant named Jackie Sherrill is elevated to head coach and it just so happens that the best high school quarterback in the country lives a few blocks from Pitt Stadium.

Because of Dorsett and Majors, Dan Marino going to Pitt is a no-brainer. He has a great college career and ends up becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to pick up a football.

It was as if Dorsett and Marino had fallen out of the sky and landed on the Pitt campus. That’s not likely to happen again.

Marino played his last game for Pitt 35 years ago.

Pitt has been dreaming about creating that scenario again and it’s not going to happen. It’s time for Lyke to accept reality and convince Pitt and Pittsburgh football fans that having a competitive program that has a chance to go to a nice bowl game every once in a while is a good thing.

It’s not fair to Pat Narduzzi for Lyke or anyone else to expect him to make Pitt like Michigan State. It’s not going to happen.

Pitt should be happy being a little better than Boston College.

Football games should be played on campus in a 42,000-seat stadium. Maybe, every once in a while, it will catch lightning in a bottle, knock off some big teams and sneak into the Top 10.

Let’s dispel one of the biggest myths in sports — that Pittsburgh is a great football town. It’s not. It’s like every other town. Its people love and support a winner.

Don’t forget that the Steelers’ modern era began with Chuck Noll’s Steelers playing their home games at Pitt Stadium and going 1-13.

For the first 30 years of the Steelers’ existence, they couldn’t fill a 35,000-seat baseball park and Pitt played in a 56,000-seat, real football stadium a few blocks away.

Heather Lyke may have come here with big ideas and hopes of returning Pitt to the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s, but she’s going to be disappointed, unhappy and another name on the list of failed Pitt Athletic Directors if she doesn’t face reality in a hurry.

She needs to put Pitt football in perspective and the first step should be putting Pitt football back on campus.

You now what a tarp is?

A really big Band-aid.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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